The past couple months I’ve found myself sitting in a bunker, waiting for the anticipated calamity of Iowa State football to proceed. A few days ago, someone relayed word to me that it was almost November – that basketball season was upon us – and I emerged to conveniently find a rather riotous group in Lot C6 before the Texas football game. Those Cyclone revelers treated me to their finest food and drink while informing me that Mark Mangino decided he’d no longer "Keep Sawin Wood." (Oh, you didn’t know there was a secret bunker under the Jacobson Building? Whoops. Yeah, I found Bruce Van De Velde down there. Someone should probably report that…)
Anyway, during my stay underground I had time to contemplate many things: how to increase Jim Webb’s polling numbers, the true location of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and, of course, Iowa State women’s basketball. I have answers to all of these questions. For today, here’s a preview of Bill Fennelly’s 21st season.
A Brief Recap
Just in case you’ve been too caught up in the transition over on the men’s side, are busy still trying to calculate how Iowa State could make a bowl, or have feverishly followed the Cyclone cross country teams this fall (congrats to Perez Rotich on the Big 12 Championship!), here’s a brief recap of the 2014-15 women’s basketball team.
Last season, Iowa State finished with an overall record of 18-13 (9-9 Big 12) and earned a #10 seed in the NCAA Tournament. ISU made its ninth straight appearance in the Big Dance. Unfortunately, the squad lost to Dayton in the tournament’s first round. Iowa State graduated three starters – Fallon Ellis, Nikki Moody, and Brynn Williamson.
A Look at the Roster
Roommates Kidd Blaskowsky and Maddie Baier return for their final go-around with the Cyclones. Blaskowsky, who started in 24 games last year, is a sparkplug guard for the Cyclones. Her efficiency behind the arc will be a vital part of Iowa State’s offense.
Baier will fill a backup post role for the Cyclones.
Guard Seanna Johnson will undoubtedly have a major impact for the Cyclones this season. She’s had some knee issues this fall and has been limited in practice, but the All-Big 12 Honorable Mention from 2015 started in every game last year and will continue to dominate the boards. Johnson was the leading rebounder in the Big 12 last year. (How do you lead the league in rebounding and only get an Honorable Mention?)
Lexi Albrecht and Jordan Jensen round out the junior class.
Coach Fennelly said during media day that Jadda Buckley will take over the point guard position following Nikki Moody’s graduation. Fennelly is confident in Buckley’s health and the potential for her to be one of the next great point guards at Iowa State.
Center Bryanna Fernstrom returns for her second year. Last year, she averaged 9 points and 3.2 rebounds and started 25 games.
Emily Durr, a guard from New York, was active in every game last year. Durr averaged 4.8 points and was over 90% from the free throw line.
Fennelly acknowledges he has a young roster. He notes that of his top nine players, seven are sophomores and freshmen. According to Fennelly, all three freshmen are skilled and will see playing time, perhaps in significant roles.
Canadian guard Bridget Carleton is a likely starter for the Cyclones. A versatile player, she competed on several Canadian youth national teams. Redshirt freshman forward Claire Ricketts drew comparisons from Fennelly to Chelsea Poppens for her energy and ability to rebound.
Meredith Burkhall, a graduate of Des Moines Roosevelt, will also contribute in the post for the Cyclones. Burkhall was a nationally-ranked prospect who averaged a double-double her senior year at Roosevelt.
Freshman guard TeeTee Starks is from the same hometown as Seanna Johnson. The two played on the same AAU team in high school, and their relationship helped drive Starks to Iowa State. Starks won three state championships at Hopkins High School in Minnesota.
A Look at the Schedule
Following two exhibitions, the Cyclones open the regular season against a team whose name I’m not allowed to print. The game should serve as a convenient second act to an earlier win by the men’s team in Sioux Falls. Less than 48 hours later, Iowa State heads down to Des Moines for a matchup with Drake. The Cyclones haven’t lost to Drake this decade; don’t expect that to change.
A week later, New Orleans serves as a warm up before Cancun. In Cancun, Texas State and Idaho bookend the marquee game against Duke on Black Friday. Duke, which will bring the nation’s #1 recruiting class to Cancun, will likely prove too much for the Cyclones.
November predicted Record: 5-1
Northern Iowa hasn’t beat Iowa State since 2002. Southern? Well, good luck to them.
On the other hand, the series with the Hawkeyes has truly been a back and forth affair; the home team has won the last eight years. Luckily the game this year is in Ames. And remember: Iowa has never beat Bill Fennelly at Hilton. Taking these trends into consideration, this year’s installment of the Cy-Hawk series is sure to be exciting, but the Cyclones will ultimately pull away if history is any indication.
The next three opponents before Christmas break – Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Alcorn State, and Northern Arizona – should all be easily dispatched. The real challenge starts at the very end of December, when the Cyclones travel to Manhattan, Kansas, to take on the Wildcats in the Big 12 opener. I'm predicting Iowa State to stumble in its first conference road test.
December predicted record: 6-1
Overall: 11-2 (0-1)
January offers challenges and opportunities for the Cyclones. Three Big 12 teams – Baylor (#5), Texas (#12), and Oklahoma (#17) – are ranked in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 Poll. Iowa State will have its shot at each of these schools in January.
Away games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are crucial if Iowa State expects to compete at the top of the Big 12. The Red Raiders and Cowgirls are likely to finish in the bottom half of the conference, according to the league’s coaches. Home games against Baylor and Oklahoma also provide an opportunity for the Cyclones to make a statement.
January predicted record: 5-3
Overall: 16-5 (5-4)
The month of February starts easy enough for the Cyclones down in Lawrence, Kansas. The Jayhawks are projected to finish last in the Big 12. Of course, all conference road games deserve attention, but this game should serve as a confidence-boosting opportunity after what could be a difficult end to January.
Following Kansas, a three-game gauntlet begins in which the Cyclones must face Texas at home and West Virginia and TCU on the road. Winning two of these three games would be great for Bill Fennelly’s squad, though it’s much more likely Iowa State will beat Texas at Hilton and fall to TCU and WVU on the road. The rest of the way, look for Iowa State to win its three home games and lose away games to Baylor and Oklahoma.
February/March predicted record: 5-4
Overall regular season record: 21-9 (10-8)
Is this the year the Cyclones break through and reach a Final Four?
No. Sorry, but there’s just too much disparity in women’s college basketball. Good luck if you’re in the same region as Connecticut, Notre Dame, or South Carolina.
However, with its young roster, the future of the Cyclone women is certainly bright. You can definitely expect another NCAA Tournament appearance this year, but you can also expect that a second-round exit is much more likely than a trip to Indianapolis in April.